Yesterday night I went to the 930 Club to see Josh Ritter, an up and coming artist who is drawing comparisons to songwriting legends Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. I came across his album Animal Years a while back, and was immediately drawn to his bare style and imaginative lyrics. His previous albums, such as Hello Starling, are grounded in a much more folk motif, but with this years’ The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, he has branched out to a style more reminescent of the alternative genre, while still reminding his listeners of his roots. His rise in the US coincided in a large part with “Girl in the War”, a song that takes a unique look at the side of a young man whose love is the one in the face of danger.
An Idaho boy, Josh never intended to become a musician, instead studying to become a neurologist like his parents. But while in college he bought a guitar at a KMart, and began composing. What is tantalizing is that he is still finding himself as an artist, despite his critical aclaim (Paste claims, “Put simply, Ritter is the most gifted interpreter of Americana, as an arranger and a lyricist, working today.”) He just learned to play the piano, and is beginning to dwelve in different genres, introducing rock infused drums and electric guitar, and the brass and sax of jazz, into his most recent work.
But what Ritter does that places him above his peers is write lyrics that tell a story and cleverly capture raw emotion. In “The Temptation of Adam”, he recounts his apocalyptic encounter with love:
I never had to learn to love her like I learned to love the Bomb
She just came along and started to ignore me
As we waited for the Big One
I started singing her my songs
And I think she started feeling something for me
We passed the time with crosswords that she thought to bring inside
What five letters spell “apocalypse” she asked me
I won her over saying “W.W.I.I.I.”
We smiled and we both knew that she’d misjudged me
The show itself at the 930 Club was a real treat, as Josh Ritter performed almost all of his hits, totaling over an hour and a half. A novice to the venue, I was barely 15 feet away, and felt the intimate feel of the packed house served his performance well. However, he claimed that this was the largest venue he had ever performed at, and seemed to be having the time of his life. Much of his previous years were spent touring, especially abroad, where he has a strong following, and he still seems starstuck with his success. NPR was broadcasting the performance live as well, so hopefully more fans will follow. Ritter entertained in between songs by recounting stories from his Idaho roots, providing some insight into the inspiration for his songs.
Here is an interview with the DCist prior to the concert.
Here are two clips, many more can be found online. The first is the upbeat “To the Dogs or Whoever”, and the second is the more mellow “Girl in the War”.